Kosovo’s security forces have arrested 19 people over the last two weeks while breaking up an ISIS terror cell that took aim at World Cup soccer — and the Israelis in particular. Working in tandem with Macedonia and Albania, authorities changed venues for games while tracking the cell, eventually uncovering a cell pursuing a multi-pronged attack strategy that might have been the worst ISIS attack in the West since Paris:
Simultaneous attacks by ISIS have been foiled — including one targeting the Israeli national soccer team, police in Kosovo said.
According to a statement issued Thursday, 18 people were arrested in Kosovo and six more across both Albania and Macedonia. Police said explosive devices, weapons, electronic equipment and a drone were recovered.
Reuters has more on their plans for “synchronized terror attacks”:
The police said the suspects were in contact with an Islamic State member, the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq”, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, from whom they received orders to attack.
“They were planning to commit terrorist attacks in Kosovo and also (an attack) against Israeli football team and their fans during the Albania-Israel match,” Kosovo police said in a statement in the evening.
Albania moved a World Cup European qualifying match with Israel on Nov. 12 from the northern city of Shkoder to a venue near the capital Tirana because of fears of a possible attack by militants.
Both Kosovo and Albania have significant Muslim populations (95.6% and 56.7% respectively, according to the CIA World Factbook), so assimilation into those countries from ISIS would be easier than, say, France or Belgium — at least theoretically. Those Kosovars are ethnic Albanian and mainly secular, which has allowed the government some room to protect themselves and their EU partners from the threat. Reuters reports that the government has information on 300 Kosovars who went to Syria to fight for ISIS, and have made 200 or more arrests over the past couple of years.
On the other hand, the New York Times reported six months ago that Kosovo had become a ripe recruiting ground for ISIS. They put the blame on the Saudis:
The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.
Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.
Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe. …
They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.
“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”
The Saudi influence on Salafist expansion has been an issue since 9/11, one which the US has tried to downplay if not flat-out ignore. The Saudis see ISIS as a threat, but it’s one of their own making, at least in part. When the acute issues of ISIS have been addressed, the US and the West will need to confront the sources of the spread of radicalization.